Sad Dads: New Fathers Can Get Postpartum Depression, Too

September 27, 2017 Katie L. Monarch, MSW, LCSW


Here are the factors and signs of paternal postnatal depression.

When people typically talk about postpartum depression, they mention the crippling anxiety and sadness, the mood swings, and difficulty in bonding with the baby. What they usually don't mention is that mothers aren't the only ones who can feel this way.

"New fathers can also suffer from depression either during pregnancy or after the birth--it's called paternal postnatal depression," says Katie L. Monarch, MSW, LCSW, licensed clinical social worker and coordinator of the Postpartum Depression Program at St. Joseph Hospital, Orange.

A recent report in JAMA Psychiatry is just the latest in a group of studies confirming this finding. "Although fathers aren't usually screened for postpartum depression as mothers are, it's important to recognize when a dad's feelings go beyond the usual stresses caused by normal life changes, such as lack of sleep, that a new baby can bring. That's especially crucial because men tend to not talk about or seek help for depression, and their symptoms can be different than what women experience. Depression can affect the family dynamic--creating a wedge between the parents and possibly having a negative impact on the child," Monarch says.

Know the risks

There are some factors that can give men a stronger likelihood of paternal postnatal depression, Monarch says. "If a man has a history of depression, that can play a part. If his partner has postpartum depression, that can also increase the risk, as can any underlying marital conflicts or issues between the parents."

Relationship tension isn't the only kind of stress that puts dads at risk. "Fathers may be worried about finances with a new baby to provide for, so any workplace stress, such as job instability or even job loss, can also be a trigger," Monarch says.

And it's harder to take care of someone else, especially a newborn, if a dad isn't taking care of himself. "If a man is in poor health--overweight, smoking or has chronic health conditions that aren't managed properly--it will be hard to get the energy to move through the depressive symptoms," Monarch says.

Know the signs

It's one thing for a dad to get snappish if he's been kept up at night because of a crying baby, but it's something else if he gets irrationally angry or has a panic attack. "With this kind of depression, a man's emotions and behaviors can change," Monarch says. "In addition to anger and panic, he may feel anxiety, sadness or a sense of uselessness. He can also experience physical symptoms, such as shortness of breath, fatigue or weight loss or gain."

To loved ones, it may seem as if the dad with depression has undergone a personality change. "A man who used to show affection freely may start to withdraw; someone who worked regular nine-to-five hours may stay late at the office on a regular basis or someone who is usually solid and dependable will take unhealthy risks, such as drinking more frequently," Monarch says.

"Should a new dad exhibit any of these behaviors, and if they go on for more than two weeks, it is time to have a conversation about his mental health and getting him help."

Know how to help

Taking that first step and talking about a father's feelings may be difficult, but it can set him on the path toward dealing with his paternal postnatal depression. "A trained therapist can guide him in processing his emotions and issues; he can go alone or with his partner, depending on the circumstances," Monarch says. "In addition to talking with a therapist, it will help a father to develop a support network, such as friendships with other new dads, that he can turn to when he needs to share what's on his mind. Depending on the symptoms and their severity, a therapist may prescribe anti-depression medication as well."

Finally, new dads should establish healthy lifestyle habits. "If men exercise, eat foods that are good for them, abstain from smoking and lower their stress levels, it will help them feel better--these are positive forces that can help lift the spirit and counterbalance the negative feelings," Monarch says.

St. Joseph Hospital, Orange, offers comprehensive treatment and support for postpartum depression, provided by an expert team of psychiatrists, licensed clinical therapists and social workers, in a supportive and therapeutic environment. To learn more, click here or call 714-771-8101.

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.


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